Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Ode to the Perfect Burger

I say, the messier the better.
For the past two weeks, I've been overhauling my diet, which has included forgoing all sugar, empty refined carbs (bread, crackers, sweets, chips etc...) and fried or processed anything. Meals at home that were once redolent with the aroma of Italian sausages simmering in a rich tomato sauce just waiting to be spooned onto a pile of al dente rigatoni, piled high hot dogs topped with chili sauce and creamy cole slaw, and twice-baked potatoes stuffed with cream, cheese and bacon have been replaced with grilled fish and steamed broccoli, huge salads topped with chicken breast and lots and lots of water.

So, why are doing this to yourself you ask? Because in the past year and half, I managed to gain a cool tener...yes, I have gained ten pounds thanks to a diet of french fries dipped in mayo, too many glasses of Belgian beer and way too many yummy, salty goodies coated in orange powder. There was once a time in a land far, far away where I could readily partake of these deliciously evil food stuffs without consequence. However, now that I have passed the 40 year mark, those days, those lovely, lovely days where a mere 2 mile jog could undo the Plato Gordo and a jumbo margarita are distant memories.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not giving up everything nor am I trying to pull an about face and suddenly start preaching a healthy lifestyle after hawking some of the worst food on the planet. Heck, my blog is stilled named Fatback and Foie Gras and so it will remain. I'm just trying to get some stubborn poundage off my belly, which was inevitably brought on by a combination of crappy diet and old age, something for you youngin's to look forward to.
Having said this, I still believe that many of these unmentionables still have a place in my life, otherwise I seriously can't go on, so while I'm lacing my up running shoes a few more times each week and subbing out grilled salmon for country fried steak a bit more, I will still partake of all that's food worthy in this world, just not every night, and this includes one tasty item that very few can resist, especially me-- the hamburger.

When it comes to burgers, I am a classics gal. While topping a burger with blue cheese, barbecue sauce, fried eggs, avocado, or even Spam is noteworthy and preferred by some, I like my burger done up the old-fashioned way with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and maybe cheddar or American cheese, but that's me. However you decide to pile it on and whatever you prefer, here are a few tips to help you make the best (i.e. your own "perfect") burger at home.

1. Don't skimp on the quality of the bun. Much of a burger's beauty comes from sinking your teeth into a soft, chewy bun that's soaked up just the right amount of meat grease. A poor quality, dried out bun is a great way to ruin your burger eating experience. I personally like Martin's potato rolls especially their seeded buns which seem to scream, "put a big hunk of grilled meat on me!"

2. The meat. First it's got to be 80/20 or at least 85/15, which means there's a decent amount of fat ground up with the beef. Super lean burgers, while healthier, most often end up as dried up hockey pucks on a bun, so I say, if you're gonna eat a burger, eat a stinkin' burger in all its glory and make it a good one. Also, ground chuck makes for the best burger meat in my opinion.

3. Be nice to your meat. When it comes to shaping your patties, avoid over handling them. Gently roll them into balls and then flatten with your hand, and don't make them too thin (unless you like them that way). Also, I've found that pressing an indentation into the middle of the burger with your thumb before placing it on the grill or pan helps the meat to do a bit of self basting as it cooks. Finally, season generously with salt and pepper (or other seasonings of your choice) on both sides just before grilling and not before. Salt breaks down proteins in the meat, so you don't want your burger marinating in it.

4. Put your burger on the grill or in the pan and don't touch it! Step away from the pan. Flipping your burger around too many times results in a fully cooked burger with minimal sear, and let's face it, one of the best parts of a burger is that lovely blackened char on the outside. Finally, this tip bears repeating. Do not press your burger with a spatula while you cook it unless you want to extract every drop of juiciness. This is a big no-no as is overcooking your burger, so if you're unsure about the difference between medium-rare and well-done, use a meat thermometer.

5. On piling it on. As I mentioned previously, whatever you want to put on your burger is ok by me. However, don't pile on too much stuff, especially wet ingredients like tomatoes, sauces etc...unless you're ok eating your hamburger with a knife and fork. Layer your toppings on both sides of the burger to avoid squeezing all the goods out of the bun. For instance, I like to put a little mustard and some sliced or minced onions on the bottom bun. Then, I add the burger meat and top with lettuce, tomato, pickle, a bit of ketchup and then slather some mayo on the top bun. I also lightly grill my bun to keep it from getting soggy.

It snowed yesterday and now it's supposed to be 70 degrees in a day or two. I say, it's time to fire up the grill and make a couple of burgers. Perhaps I'll be splurging along with you since, Lord knows, I am seriously craving one right now.

Got a tip for making the perfect burger or a special combination of toppings that makes your burger special? Feel free to share it.

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  1. how am i supposed to get excited about the burger with the guilt trip you laid on me in the first 3 paragraphs?

    I have heard of people grinding their own ribeye or ny strip for usage within a burger. That seems a high price to pay for little reward. thoughts?

    1. Grinding your own meat makes all the difference in the world! Doesn't need to be anything super expensive - although the nicer, the better. Toss the chunks into your food processor and you've got ground meat, voila! I think that the difference is that it is much fresher than the ground meat that you'll buy anywhere. Add just a little salt, put it on the grill and you need nothing more than a little mayo on the bun. That way, you can really taste the MEAT - which I sometimes forget it the best part of the burger.

  2. Haha, I know. Sorry. I'm trying so hard to eat better, which is making me do posts like this because I want it all SO BAD. High cholesterol and blood pressure runs in my family :( Anyhow, in regards to grinding your own meat, lots of people do it, but it's usually chuck roast or a similar less expensive cut. I'm sure rib-eye would be fantastic though if one didn't mind the cost. I've never ground filet or NY Strips for burgers, so I can't comment personally, but figure it be pretty tasty.

  3. It is a challenge to write about great food and maintain a healthy lifestyle--I believe in about 80% good for you food and the other 20% being decadent. Like, say, this burger, which looks fabulous. I agree that if you're going to eat a burger, eat a great one prepared right.

  4. I like to make a small indention in the middle of the burger about halfway into it - this helps ensure the burger stays burger shaped and not plumped up like a tennis ball.

  5. All great tips, especially doing the indentation in the middle of the burger halfway during the cooking process. That's a great one, because it's true oftentimes the burger comes out looking like a meatball!

    And Karol, I totally want to start doing my own grinding. I've always loved doing tuna burgers that way using really fresh Ahi, grinding or mincing it myself and then cooking it on the grill so it's a bit rare still inside. YUM!

    Looks like the perfect day for grilling today, too ;)


  6. All great points - I think #2 and #1 are most important. I also make the small indentation right away before I put a burger on the grill, it helps.

    I also add flavorings when I mix ground meat - for instance, BBQ sauce and liquid smoke work very nicely, but there are no limits here.

    I also sometimes add small amount of blue cheese or gorgonzola (you don't want anything super-sharp) inside of the patty - makes wonders...

    And when it comes to the toppings, sauteed onions and mushrooms are my favorite...

  7. Grassfed meat. sea salt, a little olive oil, and a tich bit of crushed ice right before it goes in the pan. Meast that has not been frozen or sat around in cryovac. Still true that you can't make a silk purse out of a hogs ear.

  8. Anatoli, I like liquid smoke as well in small amounts and putting the cheese inside sounds great. I've stuffed burgers with pimento cheese before. Oh yeeee :)

    Hollister, interested in learning more about the crushed ice. Do you mix the ice into the patty?? Sounds like a neat trick.


  9. All great points and ideas for the perfect messy burger. As far as the extra pounds go as soon as I get back from Mexico I am taking your advice lacing up the shoes a little more! Now back to my cerveza, fried chimichanga, and tequila. Ole'


  10. I'm craving a burger. I started to pack on the weight after I reached 40. :( I just did a detox the other week after weeks of eating a lot of pork fat. I'm back to moderation ... for now. :)

  11. Veron, I need a detox...a big one! Good for you for finishing one. I used to do 2 day fresh juice fasts, but just can't bring myself to do them anymore. Too painful.

    Tim, ok JEALOUS! Have two extra chimichanga's for me.


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